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Myers v. Minter

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

June 24, 2019

JESSICA MARIE MYERS, Petitioner,
v.
WARDEN TRINITY MINTER, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THOMAS A. VARLAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Now before the Court is a pro se prisoner's petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 [Doc. 1], and memorandum in support thereof [Doc. 2]. Respondent filed a response in opposition thereto [Doc. 10], as well as a copy of the state record [Doc. 9], and Petitioner filed a reply [Doc. 11]. After reviewing all relevant filings, including the state court record, the record conclusively establishes that Petitioner is not entitled to relief under § 2254. Accordingly, no evidentiary hearing is warranted, see Rules Governing § 2254 Cases, Rule 8(a) and Schirro v. Landrigan, 550 U.S. 465, 474 (2007), Petitioner's § 2254 petition [Doc. 1] will be DENIED, and this action will be DISMISSED.

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Under the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (“AEDPA”), a district court may not grant habeas corpus relief for a claim that a state court adjudicated on the merits unless the state court's adjudication of the claim:

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the state court proceeding.

28 U.S.C. § 2254(d)(1)-(2). The § 2254(d) standard is a hard one to satisfy. Montgomery v. Bobby, 654 F.3d 668, 676 (6th Cir. 2011) (noting that “§ 2254(d) . . . is a purposefully demanding standard . . . ‘because it was meant to be'”) (quotation omitted).

         II. BACKGROUND

         On the evening of October 12, 2009, Petitioner and her then-boyfriend, Shawn Jones, argued with Rhonda and Jimmy Cutshall (“the victims”) about prescription pills at the victims' trailer home. State v. Myers, No. E2012-01814-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 5436955, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. Sept. 27, 2013). Several hours later, on October 13, Petitioner and Jones broke into the victims' trailer and both of the victims were shot [Id.]. Jimmy Cutshall died, but Rhonda Cutshall survived [Id.].

         Based on this incident, a Knox County jury found Petitioner guilty of one count of first-degree premeditated murder, three counts of first-degree felony murder (which the trial court merged together), and one count of reckless endangerment. State v. Myers, No. E2012-01814-CCA-R3-CD, 2013 WL 5436955, at *1 (Tenn. Crim. App. June 25, 2013). Petitioner appealed, alleging that the evidence was insufficient to support her convictions, that one indictment against her was defective, and that the trial court erred in admitting certain cumulative photographs [Doc. 9-10 p. 46-56]. The Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals (“TCCA”) affirmed the convictions, but remanded the case for the trial court to merge the homicide convictions. Id. at *9-15.

         Petitioner also filed a pro se petition for post-conviction relief, which asserted various claims for ineffective assistance of counsel and a claim that the evidence was insufficient to support her convictions [Doc. 9-17 p. 5-15]. The post-conviction court appointed Petitioner counsel, who filed an amended petition for post-conviction relief that included additional claims for ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel [Doc. 9-17 p. 23-26]. After a hearing, the post-conviction court denied Petitioner relief [Doc. 9-17 p. 34-43; Doc. 9-18]. Petitioner appealed, requesting review of the denial of five of her claims for ineffective assistance of trial and appellate counsel [Doc. 9-20 p. 11-21]. The TCCA affirmed the judgment of the post-conviction court. Myers v. State, No. E2015-02037-CCA-R3-PC, 2016 WL 6915967 (Tenn. Crim. App. Nov. 24, 2016).

         In this action, Petitioner seeks relief under § 2254 based on the following claims:

         (1) The evidence was insufficient to support her conviction for the first-degree and felony murder of Jimmy Cutshall based on the theory of criminal responsibility;

         (2) The indictment was defective;

         (3) Counsel was ineffective for:

b. Failing to request a change in venue;
c. Failing to request sequestration of the jury;
d. Failing to refute the serology/DNA report;
e. Failing to argue that the glove containing an unidentified fingernail was unduly prejudicial and was not evidence that Petitioner was the shooter;
f. Failing to retain an independent expert to prove Petitioner was a “battered woman” to refute her intent; and
g. Failing to exclude two jurors during voir dire. [Doc. 1 p. 5, 6, and 8].

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Sufficiency of the Evidence

         Petitioner challenges the sufficiency of the evidence underlying her convictions for the first-degree and felony murder of Jimmy Cutshall [Id. at 5; Doc. 2 p. 1-2]. But the evidence was sufficient to support her conviction under a criminal-responsibility theory, especially in light of the deferential nature of this Court's review.

         In her petition, Petitioner states the following with regard to her sufficiency-of-the-evidence claim:

Petitioner was convicted of first-degree murder under the theory of criminal responsibility. [] Petitioner has not denied that she was present during the crimes[, ] however[, ] she was not present by choice. She was physically forced and threatened by codefendant and (then) boyfriend, Shawn Jones, when she tried to leave. Mr[.] Jones further told Petitioner that he would not think twice about putting a bullet in her. She did not take part in the actual crimes and was physically forced to be there, therefore she should not have been convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

[Id.]. Petitioner also states as follows with respect to this claim:

In the case sub judice, no evidence was presented that the defendant acted with intent to promote or assist in the commission of the murder of Jimmy Cutshall. The Petitioner herself was a victim as she was forced by codefendant Jones to be present while he committed the murder. When Ms. Myers attempted to leave, Mr. Jones forcefully made her stay. The evidence in this case was far from clear. There was no hard evidence presented at Petitioner's trial showing that she participated in the crimes committed against the victim in this case.
The proof in this case[] in no way establishes beyond a reasonable doubt that Jessica Marie Myers had the requisite intent to be held criminally responsible for the murder [of] Jimmy Cutshall.

[Doc. 2 p. 2-3]. Thus, it appears that Petitioner asserts only that she is entitled to relief under ยง 2254 from the TCCA's holding that the evidence was sufficient to establish that she was liable for the murder of Jimmy Cutshall under the criminal-responsibility theory because, according to her, that holding was based on an ...


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